Speaker says hacker group threatened Toews
Published Tuesday, March 6, 2012 10:54PM EST
Videos posted online by the hacker group Anonymous did indeed constitute a "direct threat" to Public Safety Minister Vic Toews and other MPs, the House of Commons speaker has ruled.
Andrew Scheer says Toews' parliamentary privileges were breached by the videos, which were posted last month on YouTube.
The speaker on the video threatened that if Bill C-30 -- the controversial online-surveillance bill Toews unveiled last month -- wasn't scrapped, his group would release "information" during what it called "Operation White North."
Toews complained to the speaker that videos had crossed the line into threatening behaviour and were a deliberate attempt to intimidate him in his role as an MP.
He said while those who enter political life should expect to be held accountable for their actions and to expect "vigorous debate," enduring personal threats is not part of the job.
"When duly-elected members are personally threatened for their work in Parliament -- whether introducing a bill, making a statement, or casting a vote -- this House must take the matter very seriously," he said in his decision Tuesday.
Toews has faced a month of online attacks since he introduced Bill C-30, which is entitled Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act.
The attacks escalated after Toews said that critics could either stand with the bill "or with the child pornographers."
Mark Blevis, a digital public affairs analyst, said Anonymous picks its targets carefully.
"Anonymous prides itself on being a political movement rather than an organization that goes out and maliciously hacks things," Blevis said. "They always have a statement they want to make."
The videos showed a headless man in a black suit under a red maple leaf and laurels, along with a computer-generated voice that demanded Toews' resignation.
"All this legislation does is give your corrupted government more power to control its citizens," the synthesized voice warned Toews.
"We know all about you, Mr. Toews, and during Operation White North we will release what we have unless you scrap this bill."
The threats contained in the videos "demonstrate a flagrant disregard of our traditions and a subversive attack on the most fundamental privileges of this House," Scheer said.
"As your Speaker and the guardian of those privileges, I have concluded that this aspect – the videos posted on the Internet by Anonymous – therefore constitutes a prima facie question of privilege and I invite the Minister to move his motion."
Toews made two other claims of privilege, but Scheer dismissed those.
The Commons can now debate whether to order the hackers – if they are ever identified -- to appear before a Commons committee.
"It will be our job at committee to look a what was the breach and what is the remedy," Conservative Joe Preston, the chair of the procedure and House Affairs committee, said on CTV's Power Play Tuesday. "It's not about going after (Anonymous)."
Last month, a Twitter account dubbed Vikileaks published details of Toews' divorce and spending in response to the proposed legislation. A Liberal research staffer, Adam Carroll, was later revealed to be behind that account.
Carroll offered his resignation to interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae, which was accepted.
NDP privacy and digital affairs critic Charlie Angus said Anonymous' threat is a "serious issue" but looking into Carroll's Twitter account is overstepping.
Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro has moved a motion for Carroll to appear before a Commons ethic committee.
"People attack me all the time on Twitter. Am I as a politician going to start hunting them down and start demanding to bring them before committee?" Angus said on Power Play. "It's political fear mongering."
Shortly after the Vikileaks Twitter account, there was also the trending topic of #tellviceverything in which Canadians took to Twitter to send messages to Toews about their private affairs in a tongue-in-cheek fashion.
Blevis said politicians need to accept there's a new political reality and find new ways to deal with their constituents.
"Politicians need to change the way they relate to the public," Blevis said. "If they change the way they engage and communicate to the public, it will go a long way in changing the way the public relates to them."